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Tourism and the environment: Enemies or allies?

Nairobi, 4 February 1999 - Dr. Richard Leakey, Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service, will today chair a round table to be attended by participants at the twentieth Governing Council session of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at its headquarters in Gigiri. The panellists will discuss the challenges of sustainable tourism and the approach needed to develop tourism while protecting and maintaining a healthy environment.

Richard Leakey will be joined by Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, the Director of UNEP's Division of Technology, Industry and Economics located in Paris.

"Putting tourism on a sustainable path is a major challenge, requiring partnership and cooperation within the tourism industry, and between the industry, governments and tourists themselves, said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director. "To catalyse appropriate action UNEP, jointly with other international organizations, is promoting the definition and development of sustainable tourism through the publication of guidelines and handbooks, the exchange of successful experiences and the support of demonstration projects, he said."

The tourism industry commands an annual investment in capital projects of over $800 billion and ranks as a main sector of the world economy. It accounts for almost 11 per cent of gross domestic product and is growing at an average rate of 4 per cent yearly. With such a growth rate, increasing attention is being paid to the effect of tourism on the environment.

The effects of tourism on the environment are felt in several ways: Resources are utilized to provide for the every-day comforts of visitors and utilization of materials to produce souvenirs and destruction of the natural environment caused by an influx of tourists. There is the pollution generated by tourists: discharge of untreated sewage into seas and rivers, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from transport. There is also the impact of changes upon the social and cultural life of a country; the necessity to provide accommodation to support the tourism sector resulting in increased allocation of lands, sometimes in areas where the natural environment is irrevocably changed.

But there are numerous positive effects: Countries receive the added revenue from the tourism industry; jobs are created; artisans find a booming market for their products and modern facilities and infrastructure are which are beneficial to native populations.

In order for tourism to benefit important sectors of society and be sustainable, it must create a balance that takes account of the consumption patterns within the areas mentioned.

Resource consumption and waste generation present a greater challenge to developing countries which do not have the technology to minimize their impact on societies. Threats generated by tourism are felt in both developed and developing countries. Resource consumption and waste generation are not easily handled by developing countries. Activities generate pollution: discharge of untreated sewage into seas and rivers, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions from transport and solid wastes all result in increased pressure on the environment of tourist sites.

The round table will discuss these questions: How can societies ensure a more balanced distribution of the income generated from this booming industry? Is Eco-labelling the answer? Should a percentage of profits be earmarked for development which benefits native populations? Are certification schemes needed to monitor eco-labelling?

It is important that all partners in the tourism sector adequately share the benefits that derive from tourism. A strong alliance should be forged for the tourism industry and the environment to enjoy a healthy coexistence in the future. In this regard, eco-tourism must not be only a conveniently used term it but must be meaningful. Eco-labelling is certainly not enough.

Note to journalists:
The panellists are: Dr. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director, UNEP, Kenneth Hine, Chief Executive Officer, International Hotel and Restaurant Association, Wolf Iwand, Executive Director - Touristik Union International, Geoffery Lipman, President, World Travel and Tourism Council, Amparo Rambla, Deputy Directory General - Ministry of Environment, Spain, Tuale Sale Tagaloa, Minister of Lands - Survey, Environment and Tourism - Samoa representing the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), Meenakshi Varandani, NGO Representative of the Commission on Sustainable Development, New York and David de Villiers, Deputy Secretary General, World tourism Organization

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Tore J. Brevik,
Conference Spokesman on
tel: 623292,

Robert Bisset on 623084,
Patricia Jacobs on 623088,
or Anila Shah on 623089.

UNEP News Release 1999/12

Monday 08 Feb 1999
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